No. 7925934. Sgt. Greenwood, R.T.
9th Battn. R.T.R.
Jessie Mine – At last… at last the mail has arrived… and I have eight letters from my love. I cannot describe my relief, dear one:- but you will know how I feel: it is thirteen days since I last heard from you. I hope there will never be another gap like this: I couldn’t stand it.
Before I discuss your letters… I have something to say… a confession, perhaps. It concerns my letters. You have commented upon their scarcity… but you have not rebuked me… who am the culprit. You cannot receive letters if I do not write them… and just lately I have not written as frequently as I used to… The reason… Ah Jess… how can I explain? For about a month I have had no desire to do anything… not even to write to you… tormented all the time by the consciousness of my neglect. But whenever I have stirred myself and at last put pen to paper… it has been a positive effort to say anything… No doubt you will have noticed how drab my letters have become. It is hard to offer an explanation, Jess. My mind seems to be the trouble: I cannot concentrate on writing: Instead, I dream ceaselessly about you and Barry. I cannot help it, darling…
And there is the war… and the ever present knowledge of the part I have to play. Perhaps I worry too much: perhaps I am a coward: perhaps I allow my imagination too much scope. I don’t know… all I know is that I have ceased to know the meaning of mental tranquillity: Instead I endure perpetual torment… and yes, and fear. I cannot define my fear – except that it is all mixed up with you and Barry… Does all this sound like a recital by some miserable wretch? Forgive me if it does, dear Jess… I must be frank with you: I know you would wish it. One or two recent letters may give you the impression that we are enjoying life out here. If they do, it is my mistake. We laugh sometimes… but our laughter often strikes me as hysterical… A forced gaiety which simply disguises our real frame of mind.
You will know that we have not been in battle for some weeks… and the interval has been quite a ‘cushy’ one for us in the physical sense. But in the role we are playing, being ‘out’ of action cannot be a really pleasant time. You see, we never know when we may be shoved into a particularly bloody sector at a moment’s notice. And even though we are not ‘in action’, we have been buggered about this ruddy continent until we are sick of travelling… and sick of the continual chopping and changing… And all the time… All the time, is that dreadful anxiety… fear, if you like… fear of the morrow… of the future.
I am tired of slaughter, Jess: I have seen so much of death… too much perhaps… And after our efforts of the last few months, where are we? Where are we going? What is wrong? That something is wrong I am sure. If this were not so, we would not be at loggerheads with our friends… We are at war with Greece. We are at war with Russia over Poland… in the political sense. We are not friendly with the Americans… the soldiers aren’t anyway. And out here, I find Belgian ‘Walloons’ speaking contemptuously of Belgian ‘Flams’… and the pair of them with no love for the Dutch… And the latter despising the French… Is the world a mass of hatreds? If so, how much worse will it be after the war? Why on earth can’t human beings learn to tolerate each other?
Jess… please excuse my rambling. I feel desperate sometimes. I seem to be so disillusioned, but maybe my outlook has become distorted. Perhaps there is some truth in what I read today “Moreover… that brain was not quite the sure-functioning machine of old days. No man comes quite unscathed through six months of fighting: even if the body be unwounded, the mind – which must force the body through its physical revulsion – pays toll in restlessness, in loss of concentration”. And now you may be wondering whether your husband is going crazy. You have no need to worry, my dear. I will not go crazy this side of my leave.
Whilst I have been writing, the house has been trembling from the vibration of the great bomber force passing overhead. For the past 14 days, we have had these bombers, hundreds at a time, day and night. Fortunately, they are Allied bombers and so we welcome the sound. But this aerial traffic is not all one-way. The enemy… the “Beast in Grey”… is still showing his teeth. His flying bombs seem to have quite an affection for this area. They visit us half hourly day and night… sometimes crashing to earth a few miles away… sometimes NOT so far away… They are very unpleasant things… so unpredictable.
You have told me of the flying bombs in the Manchester area. I had already heard rumours to this effect, but had no idea that they had actually been passing close to my own home. And I was astounded to hear that one has landed in Garners Lane. That was not so far away from you, dear. But you seem rather unperturbed. I wish I knew what to advise. If we had a cellar, I would not be worried, because a cellar is an excellent shelter… but we have no cellar… no shelter of any sort. The greatest danger is flying glass: one of these bombs can shatter the windows even if it drops a quarter of a mile away. Will you be careful, darling. You must be careful, even though there is no need to panic. You will always hear a flying bomb approaching… and they are easily visible by day and night, providing the clouds are higher than about five thousand feet. The noise they make is similar to that of an aeroplane… but it is different. The flying bomb ‘motor’ makes a more guttural or harsh roar than an aeroplane: it is a very powerful noise, especially when passing overhead. But you will always hear the thing, at least a few seconds in advance, and so you can take some sort of cover. Whenever you hear one, please do not remain anywhere near a window, or opposite a window. In the dining room, the best place to hide is in the corner of the chimney breast, by the door. Please promise you will take precautions darling. I know you won’t panic or become hysterical… my worry is that you may treat the things with contempt… and that you must never do because they behave so erratically. You will know best how to put Barry in a place of safety:- but don’t forget that ‘blast’ plays queer tricks… and the glass panels on the bookcases may be shattered outwards by a nearby explosion.
I wish I could do more than merely talk upon this subject… but once again you have the worry of another menace to face… alone… always alone. Perhaps there will be no more flying bombs over the Manchester area. Maybe the Hun was just sending another reminder of ‘Xmas… as he did in 1940. I hope so, dear… how I hope.
I was rather relieved to hear that that parcel had arrived. I would not have liked it to go astray… But I would like you to clear up a little doubt in my mind. Your letter refers to my “note pads”, and that makes me wonder whether you have received the complete parcel. You see, I was not responsible for making up the parcel… it was done by a colleague of mine who is now in England on a course. What I want to know is whether you received a small note book… in stiff blue covers with red binding… as well as the note pads. This note-book contains the beginning of the story, from “D” day. (One of seven note books comprising RTG’s diary, now in the Imperial War Museum, and transcribed on this web site.)
I fear you will find the story somewhat unintelligible in places. It was written under queer conditions sometimes. I used to always carry the current ‘book’ in my pocket so that I could write when conditions prevented access to my normal letter writing tackle. Under these circumstances, I simply wrote as though I were writing a letter to you. At other times, I jotted down impressions in the form of a diary. It was in Normandy that I found it most difficult to keep up-to-date because it was there that we experienced our heaviest fighting. Also we were rarely free from enemy shelling and mortaring… and always harboured in the midst of our own artillery. Even when we withdrew from the front, we always landed up in the midst of our artillery. Needless to say, the noise was appalling. I often look back upon those days and marvel that we were able to operate at all under such cramped conditions. But we managed somehow… altho’ our casualties from mortaring were rather worrying at times. There were occasions when we remained static for days on end… literally within sight of the enemy, and apparently inviting him to shoot us to smithereens. Hill 112 is an example of this. We endured about 10 days mortaring in that place, hardly firing a shot in return… but always on the alert. It seemed senseless at the time, but we learned later that we played a fairly valuable part in subsequent operations by thus revealing ourselves.
You will have noticed that a few of my letters to you have been reproduced almost word for word from the notes… It was quicker for me to copy the notes… and more accurate, because the letters were written long after the events.
I was sorry to hear about Barry’s little accident, Jess… but somehow I never felt really worried. I realise exactly how it happened, and feel convinced that he did not really hurt himself. The bump you heard must have been caused by the forward end of the pram striking the floor… and he must have slipped forward afterwards, as you suggest. Even though he landed on his head, the carpet would soften the blow considerably. This will not be his last accident by any means… not if he is a normal little boy. It is by such adventures that a youngster learns… as I know to my cost! I lost a bit of an ear once through being a nosey parker! I can quite understand how terrified you must have been… In fact, I think you suffered more harm than Barry. But you appear to have recovered very quickly and behaved with your usual calm common sense.
You will know by now that I received the snaps of Barry… I have almost worn them out… peeping at them myself, and shewing them to my various European hostesses. People out here seem to love seeing our private ‘photos. Needless to say, I am only too willing to let them see pictures of my beautiful wife and our little son. It was good to hear that Steeles have taken more pictures of Barry. I do hope they turn out alright. Please send them to me as soon as you can.
There is much in your letters that I want to talk about, but I will have to do so in subsequent letters. I have no more time now to say anything in this… If I don’t hurry I will miss the outgoing mail, and that will mean another day’s delay.
I fear that I opened up on a very mournful note… but you mustn’t pay too much attention to my moanings. Soldiers are always grousing Jessie Mine…
In my next letter, I will tell you the truth about Charlotte… my Charlotte, with the accent on the lotte!!!
Au revoir, my love… My Jess…
with the accent on My…